Tomb Raider was big when I grew up, but I simply couldn’t get into it. I tried and tried, thanks to a friend’s Sony PlayStation and his family’s love of the franchise, but the controls were just too rigid for me and I never became hooked. Thankfully, things changed when Tomb Raider was rebooted in 2013, because the modernized, Uncharted-inspired tale that resulted from those efforts blew me away and installed itself as a personal favourite. Gone were the rigid controls and things that turned me off as a kid, and in their place was an epic game that was fluid, immersive and thoroughly entertaining.
Now, two years later, Lara Croft is back and as badass as ever, in Rise of the Tomb Raider, a timed Xbox One exclusive that the company hopes will move consoles this holiday season. As a sequel to the reboot and its remastered Definitive Edition, this new quest is a larger scale and more grandiose experience, which features a bigger world and tougher challenge tombs. It’s also another very well made action-adventure game starring the industry’s greatest and most iconic heroine, conical boobs notwithstanding.
In Rise of the Tomb Raider, Lara sets out on a quest to prove her deceased father right, by attempting to find a mythical artifact that he was adamant about. Unfortunately, Lord Croft’s claims that an immortality-granting relic from days gone by existed in a remote part of the world were met with ridicule and slander, all of which caused the wealthy archaeologist to take his own life in the familiar confines of his study. It was his young daughter who found him, and it was that tragic event that made her want to help clear her father’s name. Of course, our heroine has her own ambition, and also wants to find the potentially magical totem for her own purposes.
Things begin with a bang, atop a glacial mountain range that seems to extend as far as the eye can see. There, Lara and an ally literally risk everything to find information for their cause. It’s an epic and memorable opening, which is chock full of spectacle befitting a Mission Impossible movie.
From there, things switch to another part of the world where information is gathered and enemies are made, before the quest sets its sights on the forgotten land found in Lord Croft’s lore. There, Lara hopes to discover what happened to the natives who followed the mystical prophet, whose otherworldly powers seemed to originate from the artifact in question. Of course, things don’t always go as planned, and our twenty-something explorer finds herself in the middle of a war.
This is, at its heart, a story of mystery, religion and deception, and as you’ll find out, Lara Croft is not the only one who has her eyes on finding the proverbial prize. Another group — a longstanding religious group known as Trinity — also desires the artifact, and wants to use it not only for evil reasons, but to also cure one of their ailing members. They’ll stop at nothing, and are more than fine with killing their way to the objective, with their heartless leader (Konstantin) at the helm.
Konstantin isn’t the greatest villain in the history of gaming, but he does the job in a game where story isn’t as much of a focus is exploration, puzzle solving and gameplay are. Rise of the Tomb Raider‘s storyline is relatively interesting, but it’s not incredibly immersive or insanely memorable either, and I didn’t find it to be as interesting as the 2013 game’s was. Perhaps others will feel differently, but I preferred the tightness and focus that that game presented to the larger scale effort found in this one.
On the gameplay side of things, Rise of the Tomb Raider expands upon its predecessor while still retaining the same core gameplay, with its similarities to Uncharted. It’s interesting how things come full circle, because Nathan Drake’s epics were originally inspired by Lara’s 32-bit quests, and now Lara’s return to the limelight has borrowed from its protege.
At the core of this experience lay adventure mechanics like running, jumping and tons of climbing, as well as cover based gunplay, much like we saw in the last game. Hunting is once again a major focus, too, and you’ll need to take time out to kill and skin animals if you hope to upgrade your weapons and craft items. The whole crafting system has been expanded as well, and each item has its own set of different requirements, some of which pertain to new animals like ferocious bears and porcine boars. Deer — which can be taken down with one good shot to the heart — birds, and rabbits are still the most plentiful prey, but bears are the ultimate trophy. They’ll give you a run for your money, and will take a lot of arrows or firepower to bring down.
Lara is also able to craft, purchase and discover new tools, including impromptu grenades and molotovs, as well as something that helps her swim underwater for a longer period of time. Some of these items are found in stores, although those are few and far between. Expect to rely on your trusty bow a lot, though, as well as its amazing poison, fire and grenade arrows, which can really help to turn the tide in battle. Poison arrows became my best friend, as they allowed me to take out many enemies at once through the use of an aimed gas cloud. Even armoured foes didn’t stand a chance against them. Then again, I made a mistake when I chose to play on normal, because it was too easy to pick enemies off with headshots and I hardly felt challenged. Then again, I usually play shooters on hard, so that one’s on me.
As mentioned above, the map is quite large, and is once again accessible by visiting campfires and fast travelling between them. This is helpful if you’re a completionist who wants to find all of the game’s many (overwhelming) collectibles, or if you find one of the 9 challenge tombs and decide to revisit it at a later date. Campfires can once again be used to upgrade Lara and her weapons — the likes of which include bows, pistols, shotguns and rifles — or change her clothing.
The challenge tombs, themselves, are more difficult than what we saw in 2013’s Tomb Raider, and are more unique as well. The difference isn’t night and day, though, and I honestly expected a bit more from them. Others likely will end up feeling the same way, which is too bad given that the hidden tombs were one of the biggest complaints people had with the reboot. There are optional side missions that help make this issue easier to overlook, but they’re not extraordinary either, and have you doing things like shooting down drones or fetching supplies and dropping them off at different camps.
You’ll need to complete all of the challenge tombs in one play through if you aim for 100%, and will also find yourself scouring each inch of them in the hopes of finding different collectibles, such as audio and written diaries or pieces of long lost treasure. Crafting materials are also found scattered throughout every one of the game’s varied environments, and the same is true of obelisks and murals that are written in different languages like some of the diaries happen to be. Finding these helps to upgrade Lara’s language skills, and you’ll need to do some backtracking in order to read them all since some require high language skills that you won’t have the first time you come across them.
There is no multiplayer this time around, so don’t expect to be able to play against friends and strangers. However, it didn’t seem as if many people — myself notwithstanding — enjoyed the competitive mode in the last game. Its place isn’t left empty, however, and is filled instead by a middling challenge mode that lets players revisit completed missions in score attack mode, or create their own challenges. The unique part is that you earn cards as you play, and can purchase more through currency acquired from finding secrets. These cards, you see, make things easier or more challenging, by changing things up with different starting weapons, limited ammo, characters with big heads and things like that.
With Rise of the Tomb Raider, Crystal Dynamics has definitely created a bigger game in both sense and scope. The experience is definitely more grandiose, and there’s even more to do, although the sheer amount of collectibles, caves and challenges becomes overwhelming. Things also look really good, and run without much of an issue outside of a couple of slight frame hitches (note that I didn’t use the term drops). Rise of the Tomb Raider did crash on me, once, though, and it occurred out of the blue.
Lara’s model is especially impressive, featuring great detail and fantastic-looking hair that looks and moves realistically, as a result of advanced TressFX technology. The environments she visits are also richly detailed and varied, with good lighting and lots of hidden nooks and crannies. What also really shines, though, is the voice acting, which is top notch once again. Camilla Luddington continues to do a fantastic job as Lara, and the cast that supports her also shows some solid acting chops.
In the end, though, I’m unsure as to whether I really think this is a better game than Tomb Raider. It’s definitely larger in scope, but is almost overwhelming because of that, and I missed the quaintness of its predecessor at times. Still, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a great experience that fans of the genre should not sleep on. It’s polished, immersive and thoroughly enjoyable, with loads of content and a lengthier campaign than what you’d expect. On top of that, it’s also an impressive exclusive, albeit a timed one, which will likely help Microsoft ship units this Christmas.
This review is based on the Xbox One exclusive, which we were provided with.
With Rise of the Tomb Raider, Crystal Dynamics has created a polished and impressive sequel to one of the best reboots I've ever played. It can become overwhelming at times, but that doesn't keep it from being a great and must-play release.